Minnesota: Manufacturing, Medicine and Clean Energy

22 Nov, 2013

By Rachel Hamilton

Minnesota is already home to the largest concentration, per capita, of Fortune 500 companies in the United States. Katie Clark Sieben, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), says they are making room for more businesses of all sizes to expand and grow in Minnesota, and not exclusively in the Twin Cities.

Municipalities like Elk River are also making inroads for new businesses. “We’ve had two to three calls per day from all industries — medium, small, and large — interested in us,” says Brian Beeman, director of economic development for the city of Elk River’s economic development department. Elk River is located just northwest of the Twin Cities and has been designated the first energy city in Minnesota.

Cambridge, located nearly due north of Minneapolis has also seen growth and prosperity as a Job Opportunity Building Zone (JOBZ) community since 2004. Minnesota’s JOBZ program rewards businesses for creating jobs by alleviating their tax burdens. Cambridge is the JOBZ community located closest to the Twin Cities.

Industries and Innovations

Minnesota has one of the largest concentrations of medical and optical device manufacturing. They don’t just sell in-house either; Sieben says that in 2012, Minnesota “exported $3.1 million in medical and optical supplies, mainly to China, Japan and Belgium.”

Elk River is one of Minnesota’s manufacturing hubs, Beeman says. He says this is partially due to their location. “Elk River has the best of both worlds. We do have the necessary employee base and education, but we’re away from the Twin Cities where [employers] don’t have to pay the higher wages.”

Elk River is offering three microloans for businesses to improve their energy efficiency, create jobs, or to be a part of revitalizing their downtown. Beeman says, “We see those loans affecting the economy. It’s steady and trending upward.” The microloans are offered across sectors, including retail operations.

Sieben sees the whole state as a “manufacturing powerhouse,” and notes, “one in nine workers in Minnesota is in manufacturing.” In addition to medical devices and supplies, Minnesota also manufactures computers, electronics and machinery and processes foods.

Stan Gustafson, economic development director for the City of Cambridge, says, “Our manufacturing is primarily in the line of metals and plastics. We are a regional hub for many different things.” Cambridge is even recruiting for hotels to handle the mostly business-to-business traffic in the community.

Talent and Education

Minnesota has no shortage of talented workers or education. Sieben says, “There are over 200 public and private post secondary institutions in the state, and we rank 11th in number of population with bachelor’s degrees.”

Not only is Minnesota full of educational institution and college graduates, but Sieben says they are “one of the top investors in students” and the “University of Minnesota ranks 13th nationwide in expenditures for research and development.”

Minnesota is also home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, and holds the highest number of medical patents per capita. This atmosphere of higher education and professional research makes for what Sieben calls a “very educated and innovative quality workforce throughout the state.”

In Elk River, they start in the high schools. “We’re working to put technology in classrooms to train students in manufacturing,” Beeman says. The Minnesota School of Business has a campus in Elk River, and they can coordinate a variety of training needs for businesses, according to Beeman.

Cambridge is near two technical colleges that partner with industries to teach needed job skills, but one quality that Cambridge can claim is the loyalty of their workforce. “People tend to work longer and harder at one job. It’s important to them,” Gustafson says. That has helped companies stay in Cambridge longer and helped them weather the recession.

Down to Business

The Minnesota Investment fund can award a maximum of $500,000 in loans with negotiable interest rates to qualified applicants through distribution to local governing bodies.

The Minnesota Job Creation Fund can provide up to $1 million in grants to qualified businesses that will create a specified number of new jobs (minimum of 10) and invest a specified amount of capital (minimum of $500,000).

There is no sales tax on clothing in Minnesota.

To companies that build large enough network operations centers (NOCs), Minnesota offers 20 years of no sales taxes on computers and servers, cooling and energy equipment, energy use, and software; the tax incentive also means qualified projects pay no personal property taxes again.

Minnesota has six freight rail lines which amount to about 4,500 miles of freight railroad integrated with the United States and Canada.



Minnesota’s location makes it appealing for many companies, according to Sieben, but it isn’t only its proximity to Canada, its central location in the United States, or the fact that the Mississippi River has its source within Minnesota’s borders.

The state also stewards its man-made distribution routes with great care, and great success. Minneapolis International Airport, which sees 180,000 departures per day, is No. 1 for check-in spots, baggage handling, and cleanliness. Minnesota doesn’t scrimp on the roads either. Sieben says, “We have one of the highest investments in transportation roadways, bridges and infrastructure.”

The Twin Cities see the benefits of Minnesota’s railway and light railway daily; Sieben says that over 90 percent of the commuters in the Twin Cities region had access to the light rail, and that they planned to increase that to 100 percent by 2015.

The state is also interested in energy initiatives. Elk River was the first energy city in Minnesota. Beeman says, “We offer energy incentives; we have locally owned utilities, and a power plant that runs off of garbage.”

He says “Our branding is ‘Powered by Nature,’” and added that they were offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in rebates as part of an initiative to attract more alternative energy companies.

The three utilities already in Elk River are providing a very stable power supply. According to Beeman, their power reliability was at 99.994 percent and the whole city was wired for fiber Internet — two factors that datacenters find attractive. Beeman says, “We turned two Fortune 50 datacenter projects around in 30 days here. We work with the county to make sure these datacenters are able to meet their needs quickly.”

Cambridge is home to the Cambridge Opportunity Industrial Park, which is certified shovel-ready and JOBZ certified. It also benefits from Cambridge’s infrastructure programs, with 10-ton roads in place, storm water ponds, telephones, and power already in place.

Outdoors and Recreation

Buffalo River State Park in Minnesota is home to one of the state’s largest prairie preserves. Only 1 percent of Minnesota’s prairies remain intact, so the park holds some of the state’s rarest flowers like silky asters and grasses like bluestem, as well as fauna that originally thrived in the state’s prairies.


The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index has consistently ranked Minnesota highly for quality of life. It measures emotional and physical health as well as the economy and job satisfaction. Sieben is proud of Minnesota’s economy, as well she might be. The unemployment rate is down to 5.1 percent statewide, and businesses are growing so that, according to Sieben, the number of open positions is higher than it has been in 12 years.

Because of all the medical manufacturing and the presence of the Mayo Clinic, Sieben says, “We have really smart people, really healthy people. Cities are clean and safe. We have more theatre seats per capita in Minneapolis/St. Paul than any other U.S. city besides New York and Chicago. We have 67 state parks and 9,000 golf courses. We have baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, lacrosse — all the pro sports.” Minnesota also has a lot of other outdoor activities.

Elk River offers their outdoors activities inside town. Beeman says, “We’re up to 46 parks now in the city, with lots of trails that connect them and the YMCA. We’re putting wifi in some of the parks too.”

And in case you were wondering, Minnesota is not without Midwestern charm. Elk River hosts the Sherburne County Fair right next to their city hall. They also offer a concert series and farmers markets just next to the river.

Their downtown is active and bustling, featuring “a nationally known pizzeria with a wood fired oven,” Beeman says, adding that premises downtown are going fast. “Many restaurants and businesses have had subsidies and have just taken off.”

Cambridge’s largest single employer is Cambridge Medical Center. “Once you get north of the metro,” Gustafson says, “Your population density drops, so we have a large draw of people come in throughout the region. The hospital sees 180,000 to 200,000 patients annually.” The hospital therefore has the resources to specialize in cardiac care.

Cambridge is linked to the Isanti bike trail, which provides about six miles of biking and walking trail through the rural parts of the county. Gustafson says it’s not just for biking and walking, but “You can do a little bird watching if you want to.” Cambridge also has the Richard G. Hardy Center of Performing Arts, and as Gustafson says, “We’re close to a lot of the metro, so it’s not too challenging to drive there”

The Minneapolis-St. Paul metro also offers the Mall of America’s famous 100 acres of retail and indoor roller coasters, just south of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden houses the iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry” by Claes Oldenburg and dozens of other pieces from the Walker Art Center’s collection.

In Sieben’s words, “Minnesota really does have everything to offer.”

More Info

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

City of Cambridge

Elk River Economic Development Department

Illustration by ddpavumba at Free Digital Photos.net

Rachel Hamilton

Rachel Hamilton is a freelance writer based in Lawrence, Kansas. She can be reached at rachelelizabethm@gmail.com.

More Posts

Related Posts